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Travel as far to the northeast as you can in Maine and you’ll come to Lubec, the most easterly town in the United States. To get here, I drove the deserted but smooth Airline Road out of Bangor, itself an adventure for its long hills and forested stretches with no homes or services for what feels like hours. Perhaps the road, Route 9, bears this nickname because you feel like you just fly along. Gas up early.
Lubec is an intriguing hamlet of homes and fishing wharves, a few shops and restaurants. Nothing fancy. But this far region of Maine has a special character. The tides are huge, the light different, the views vast. Just over the bridge from Lubec is Campobello, an island that is part of New Brunswick but feels like it’s part of Maine.
The Inn on the Wharf has cozy rooms and apartments in what once was a sardine cannery. All rooms are 25 feet from the ocean. My balcony overlooked a working wharf and Cobscook Bay. The attached restaurant, Fisherman’s Wharf, is a good spot to get a fresh steamed lobster and a brew. Just yonder, a stone’s throw away and connected by a short bridge, is Canada.
The Inn on the Wharf | 69 Johnson St., Lubec | www.theinnonthewharf.com |207-733-4400
After a night in Lubec, I crossed the next morning to Campobello Island in New Brunswick, where it’s Atlantic time, so an hour ahead. This island is on the Bay of Fundy, and it’s absolutely gorgeous (even in the drizzle of my visit). Come to this region for a “two-nation vacation,” as the tourism promoters on both sides of the border say. Don’t forget your passport.
Campobello Island | www.visitcampobello.com
Roosevelt Campobello International Park is the best-known attraction in this corner of Maine. This is where President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family spent summers as part of a small colony of other rusticators in “cottages,” called that because they weren’t winterized. But don’t be fooled — they were large, if not the grand mansions of Rhode Island’s Newport. Roosevelt Cottage, preserved with period furnishings and open for tours, has six bathrooms and 18 bedrooms. The servants and a summer tutor took over a few of those bedrooms. Docents are on hand to interpret as you wander through the grounds and cottages of the park, jointly owned and maintained by the U.S. and Canada. This, the president’s “beloved island,” is where the president visited as a baby, learned to sail as a young boy, and brought his future wife for an extended visit. He also succumbed to polio here at the age of 39.
Roosevelt Campbello International Park | Located in the East coast’s Bay of Fundy region | Admission to the park is free | www.fdr.net
Tea With Eleanor at the park is fun for anyone (except perhaps young children who won’t follow the history). During her extended summer visits, the First Lady would drop whatever she was doing on the island and take tea at 3 p.m. every day. This ritual is still repeated at Campobello as a daily event for visitors. Reservations are made in person on the day of and are free day of in person (first come, first served) or in advance online (for $12). During the event, guests sip hot tea in pretty floral teacups and are treated to homemade cookies and stories about Eleanor’s extraordinary life. I have to confess, the passionate telling of the First Lady’s story by a ninth-generation islander who was so clearly honored to share her knowledge brought a little water to my eye.
Tea with Eleanor | At Campobello International Park | Free with ticket (reserved the day of) or $12 in advance online. Open tea occurs twice daily (11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST), Monday through Sunday. Reserved tea is once daily (2 p.m. EST), Monday through Sunday | www.fdr.net/tea-with-eleanor.php
There’s more to Campobello Island than the Roosevelts and their history, particularly for those who like the outdoors. So strike out and explore. The park itself has 2,800 acres. A drive along a network of its eight miles of carriage roads took me to a couple of stunning overlooks, including this rocky promontory known as Sugar Loaf (not suitable for skiing), and Liberty Point, with its dramatic diagonal rock striations.
More about Liberty Point: http://www.fdr.net/points-of-interest.php#liberty-point
You can also hike up to Friar’s Head for beautiful rocky views of Lubec and Eastport across the bay.
Hike to Friar’s Head | 1.2 miles round trip from Visitor Centre | www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/roosevelt-campobello-international-park-visitor-centre-to-friar-s-head
Campobello’s Herring Cove Provincial Park boasts a nine-hole golf course, a mile-long beach with acres of smoothed stones, several trails and a campground.
Drive to the northern tip of the island to Head Harbour Lightstation, about 15 minutes from the park. The lighthouse is commonly called East Quoddy Head Light by those in the U.S., because of its sister lighthouse, West Quoddy Head, which sits just across the border in Lubec. But Canada’s light sits even farther east, thus its name. (Have I lost you yet?)
You can only scramble to the base of the Campobello lighthouse during a four-hour window between high and low tides, and then you are climbing metal ladders and navigating slippery rocks to get there. The timing was off and the day was foggy, so this is the best shot I have of the lighthouse, recently restored by a few indomitable island women and their friends. When you think about how hard it is to get supplies across at low tide, you really appreciate their labors. Look for the faint outline of the lighthouse in the background.
More info: www.campobello.com/lighthouse
A turn off at the last minute got me down a winding road to Head Harbour Wharf, where I took a short stroll in the drizzly fog. This may not be on the list of standard tourist attractions, but it’s dramatic scene nonetheless. This spot felt like another world, with its stalwart array of massive fishing boats snuggled into a narrow protected inlet bordered by shores of evergreens. This is hard-working Campobello. No wonder that fish have been currency on this island for a very long time. There are a couple of whale watching outfits on the island, but they weren’t operating yet when I visited in early June. I hear the trips are excellent. Marine mammals are plentiful in these waters.
I headed back to the U.S. for a trip to that sister lighthouse, located seven miles off Route 189. You’ve probably seen snapshots of the iconic lighthouse at West Quoddy Head. It’s the tower with the red and white stripes, like a candy cane. Visit the small museum in the visitor’s center and walk the grounds. You won’t be able to climb to the tower.
A state park at Quoddy Head offers shoreside walking trails and wonderful overlooks back to Campobello and across the Bay of Fundy. Pack a lunch and linger here and channel your inner most-easterly-in-the-United States self, perhaps even taking a snapshot in the lighthouse museum to honor the moment.
If you’re like me and think that no day is complete without a nibble of good chocolate, Lubec will not leave you bereft. Monica’s Chocolates is situated along Route 189 near the turn to West Quoddy Head. The owner, originally from Peru, is often on site. Monica Elliott is a exuberant personality and loves to give out free samples. I have no doubt you will go home with something from her shop, be it one of her chocolate confections (I chose peanut butter and caramel filled “sea cucumbers”) or an item of alpaca or jewelry from Peru.
Monica’s Chocolates | 100 County Road, Lubec (get directions) | 866-952-4500 or www.monicaschocolates.com